After a handful of distinctly average releases written by the group themselves at the start of the 1980s, a series of cover versions gave them their first chart action in 1982. Then came Sign Of The Times, and a late but credible entry for Best Single Of The Year. It charted at the start of the following year. A superb single, it was a return to self-written material and their biggest hit, reaching #3. Thereafter, Cranna’s comment about the quality of their singles and the quantities they sold wasn’t quite accurate, but he did have a point. Following the release of their lone album The Belle Stars they released a series of standalone singles which evidenced an increased confidence (both regarding song writing and performance) but which achieved mixed results.
Sign Of The Times’s follow-up was Sweet Memory in April ‘83. Cranna’s colleague Dave Rimmer said, “I’m a bit fed up with these happy, smiling, over-dressed girls and their happy, smiling, over-dressed records. A bit funky and bit brassy, but all gloss and no action, really.” It reached #22. The next offering, taken from the album but held back from release as a single until the appropriate time of the year, was Indian Summer, which peaked thirty places lower in the chart. “Oh how original, a summer single. But this time about India. Come off it girls, this is about as Indian as a Vesta curry,” said Peter Martin. “A gentle lilting melody is all this song’s got going for it. I mean there’s even a stupid guitar solo in there as well.”
Martin was again reviewing the singles for Smash Hits when the next single from The Belle Stars appeared. The Entertainer was perhaps the peak of the group’s artistic achievement. “This is easily their best single yet. Light years away from The Clapping Song, it has sophistication worthy of a James Bond theme tune. Produced by Anne Didley – string arranged on The Lexicon Of Love andDuck Rock – I’m forced to take back everything I’ve ever said about them.” And so he should have. But the fate of The Entertainer must have dented the group’s confidence: it continued their declining chart fortunes and stalled at #95.
“There’s been a gap of ten months since the last one and if this is all they can muster up, then I honestly fear for their future as a group,” said Linda Duff of 80s Romance in the summer of 1984. “This suffers from a weak melody and some god-awful lyrics about modern relationships. Pity really, as they sound as if they’re really really trying hard here.” They had tried hard enough to get a hit this time, albeit only as high as #71, but Duff was right to fear for their future. Soon after the seven-piece band dissolved, singer Jennie McKeown leaving along with three other members – hence the reduced numbers mentioned in Cranna’s piece.
When the three remaining members returned nearly two years later, his review of their World Domination concluded: “This is half way between the two – the old dodgy vocal sound given slick American disco production and some promising lyrics spoiled by enquiring after one’s plans for world domination. I’m sorry – I didn’t know I was supposed to have any.” The single flopped.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Dec. 17
The BELLE STARS (Jennie McKeown) Sign Of The Times (Stiff BUY167)
Kirsty MacCOLL A New England (Stiff BUY216)